Patriot League: Week 12 Preview

Where does the time go? It’s hard to believe but the 2016 Patriot League football season does indeed come to an end this weekend. The final Saturday of the regular season is once again highlighted by Lafayette and Lehigh’s yearly clash. While Lehigh has already wrapped up a berth in the FCS , the Mountain Hawks would love nothing more than to capture the outright league title with a win over their arch nemesis in college football’s most played rivalry. Lafayette’s season would at least be salvaged, rather than saved, by sending the Mountains into the playoffs with what would be considered a “very bad loss”. A Lehigh loss would not only be cause for celebration in Easton, but perhaps the Bronx as well. If Fordham can go on the road and take care of Bucknell and the Leopards pull the upset, the Rams would earn a share of their 4th Patriot League title. The third game of the weekend sees 2015 league champion Colgate play host to Georgetown. The Raiders need a win to finish the 2016 campaign with a .500 record while Georgetown is trying to avoid going winless in the league play. Holy Cross concluded their season last week with an extremely disappointing 54-14 loss to Fordham.

Fordham at Bucknell – 19 Nov. 12:00 P.M. Christy-Mathewson Stadium Lewisburg, PA

(Patriot League Network)

Fordham (7-3, 4-1) will try to make one last positive impression on the FCS playoff committee when they head west to Central Pennsylvania to take on a physically tough Bucknell (4-6, 3-2) team Saturday afternoon. The Rams have made the FCS playoffs three straight years and have an outside shot to make it a fourth with a win. Fordham also has a chance to capture a share of the Patriot League title should Lafayette upset Lehigh. The first order of business is getting by a Bucknell team that nearly upset Lehigh two weeks ago.

The Bison have given Fordham fits the last three years (lost by 2 in ’13, 3 in ’14, 8 in ’15) but haven’t been able to beat the Rams since 2012. The Bison will try to ride their defense to a win while Fordham will look turn to their red-hot quarterback Kevin Anderson and the nation’s leading rusher (1,618) in Chase Edmonds. Bucknell defensive coordinator Matt Borich has had excellent game plans for the potent Fordham offense (498 ypg 1st in PL, 40.5 ppg 1st in PL) since taking over the “D” in 2013. The Bison certainly have the defense to once again to cause problems for Fordham. The Orange and Blue’s D ranks 1st in the Patriot League in yards (352.8) allowed and 2nd in ppg (22.7) allowed.

One key for Fordham will be neutralizing an extremely talented Bucknell front seven that’s led by DT Abdullah Anderson (10 TFL), DE R.J Sheldon (8 TFL) and Senior LB Ben Richard who ranks 3rd in the Patriot League in solo tackles. The Fordham offensive line was severely tested by the Colgate defensive front two weeks and it nearly cost them the game. Chase Edmonds was held to 100 yards under his season average in the narrow win over the Raiders. The Bison defense is more than capable of putting forth a similar performance.

If the Bison D is also able to slow down Edmonds, QB Kevin Anderson has proven to be more than capable of putting up big numbers in recent weeks. Anderson was rewarded for his monster game (28-34 426 yards 3 TDs) against Holy Cross at Yankee Stadium last weekend with the Patriot League offensive player of the week. Anderson’s second half performance against Colgate two weeks ago is one of main reasons the Rams still have shot at the playoffs.

The Bison offense must be able to up points in order for Bucknell to pull the upset and rain on Fordham’s playoff parade. Doing that will likely be easier said than done given the Bison’s ups and downs on offense this season. A big reason for the ups and downs has been inconsistent play at the quarterback position. Senior R.J. Nitti has shown flashes of greatness since his return from injury at the end of October but costly interceptions and shaky accuracy has limited his effectiveness. Junior RB Joey DeFloria continues to be the Bison’s most reliable threat on offense. The small, but powerful back went over the 1,000 yard mark in Bucknell’s win over Georgetown last weekend. DeFloria should be able to exploit a Ram rush defense that surrenders 193 yards a game (5th in PL) so long as Nitti can have some success through the air.

Fordham needs to come out firing from the start in an attempt to get Bucknell down early. The longer the Bison hang around the more dangerous they become. They’ll try to shorten the game on offense as much as possible. Stop DeFloria and force the Bison to throw more than they’d like and Fordham should be able to push their record to 8-3. It likely won’t be easy though.

Of Note: Bucknell leads the all-times series against Fordham 18-13. The two met only four times prior to Fordham joining the Patriot League in 1989. Bucknell has the longest winning streak, 5 games from ’93-‘97 in the series. Fordham would make it 4 straight over the Bison with a win this year.

#16 Lehigh at Lafayette – 19 Nov. 12:30 Fisher Stadium Easton, PA

(Patriot League Network)

For the 152nd time, but for the first time since 2012, Lafayette (2-8, 1-4) and Lehigh (8-2, 5-0) will battle it out on College Hill in Easton, PA. Lafayette leads the all-time series lead 78-68-5 but the Mountain Hawks are the overwhelming favorite to win this edition of college football’s most played rivalry. Lehigh enters the game with the automatic bid to FCS playoffs already in hand and a share of the Patriot League title wrapped up. A win would give the Brown and White their 3rd outright league title and 4th 9+ win season this decade. It would also be their 4th straight win over the Leopards in Easton. Lehigh is coming off their bye so they should be well rested and fully focused on the task at hand. Even so, Lafayette will come out sky high in an attempt to pull what would be one of the biggest upsets in the long, long history of the rivalry.

It has been a long season and an even longer decade for Lafayette. The Leopards are going to close out their seventh straight losing season and potentially their second consecutive campaign with at least 9 losses. Given Lafayette’s struggles, the status of head coach Frank Tavani remains uncertain as the year comes to an end. Tavani has been at Lafayette or 17 seasons and has an 84-106 career record as the ‘Pards head coach. He inherited a program in disarray in 2000 and four years later went on a run of 3 straight Patriot League titles. Each one of those league titles also resulted in FCS playoff appearances. Lafayette remained a yearly threat for the league title through the end of the 2000’s. Despite a 5-6 regular season record in 2013, the Leopards did win the Patriot League outright which earned them a first round playoff trip to New Hampshire. To this point, that magical run to the league title and a dominant win over Lehigh at Yankee Stadium to close out the 2014 season have been the two bright spots for Lafayette this decade. Beating a Top 20 Lehigh team would certainly be considered another one.

In order for that to happen the Leopard defense must play their best of the game season. They did a good job at times last week limiting Colgate’s explosive offense. However, when it was all said and done, the Raider offense still managed to put up 38 points in the win. Lafayette must be able to get pressure of Lehigh QB Nick Shafnisky in order to disrupt the Lehigh passing the game. The Leopards possess the top pass defense in the league in terms of yards allowed (164) so there should be reason to be optimistic when it comes to their ability to at least slow down Lehigh’s high ranked passing attack (5th in FCS 329 ypg) . A big reason the Leopards have been stout against the pass is a talented backend of the defense that features Jerry Powe (9.5 TFL, 4 pass break ups) who plays the striker position and senior DB Phillip Parham (6 pass break ups, 2 INTS). Parham, Powe and Co. will be severely tested by the Lehigh wide receiver trio of Troy Pelletier (80 rec 1,047 yards 9 TDs) Gatlin Casey (53 rec 1,019 13 TDs) and Derek Knott (48 rec 603 yards 3 TDs).

Lehigh should be able to exploit the Lafayette rush defense (254 ypg allowed, 7th in PL) with a healthy a dose of RB Dominic Bragalone (174 carries 991 yards 12 TDs) and Nick Shafnisky (88 carries 289 yards 9 TDs). The Leopard defense surrendered 141 yards and 1 TD to Colgate QB Jake Melville last week. Despite the porous run defense, Lafayette has to feel good if Lehigh is forced to run the ball to win. Reason being, it will help shorten the game which should will the Mountain Hawks possessions. The more times Lehigh’s explosive offense touches the ball the more points they’re going to score.

First and foremost, Lafayette needs to score in order to win. Given the ‘Pards anemic rushing attack, the pressure to put up points will fall squarely on the shoulders of senior QB Drew Reed (63.5 comp %, 203 ypg 10 TDs 9 INTs). As a freshman in 2013, Reed led Lafayette to a 50-28 romp over Lehigh in what was the defacto Patriot League championship game. Reed would love nothing to more than to bookend his career with MVP awards against the Leopard’s rival from Bethlehem. It won’t be easy against a Mountain pass defense (187 ypg allowed) that ranks 2nd in the Patriot League. Reed will need a big game from Matt Mrazek (64 rec 673 yards 8 TDs) in order to have the type performance needed to win.

All the pressure is on Lehigh to win. A loss to the downtrodden Leopards would put a serious damper on what has been, to this point, an excellent season for the Mountain Hawks as they head into postseason play.

Of Note: Lafayette and Lehigh have met 149 times in the Lehigh Valley. The two times they haven’t were in 2014 when the 150th meeting was held Yankee Stadium and in 1891 when the two teams made the 60 mile train ride to Wilkes-Barre. That was the third game between the two schools that year. Lafayette and Lehigh met multiple times a year from their inaugural meetings in 1884 through the 1901 season. The only other season they met twice since the turn of the 20th century came during World War II, 1943, when scheduling was difficult.

Georgetown at Colgate – 19 Nov 1:00 P.M. Andy Kerr Stadium Hamilton, NY

(Patriot League Network)

Colgate (4-5, 3-2) looks to wrap up a .500 season against Georgetown (3-7, 0-5) on what figures to be an unseasonably warm late November afternoon in the Chenango Valley. Colgate entered the season as prohibitive favorite to repeat as Patriot League champs but a very tough schedule to open the year did the Raiders no favors. As it, Colgate enters the final game of the year needing one win to finish with an Ivy League like record of 5-5.

Georgetown’s season has taken the opposite path of Colgate’s. The Hoyas started the season 3-0 for the first time since 1999 but head to upstate New York on a 7 game losing streak. Georgetown has come close to notching their 4th win in recent weeks against Fordham, Holy Cross and Bucknell but an extremely limited offense continues to hold them back. QB Clay Norris (53 comp %, 71 ypg 2 TDs 10 INTs) continues to struggle with consistency in the passing department since taking over for the injured Tim Barnes early in the year. Adding to the Hoyas problems on offense is a rushing attack that has contributed next to nothing in league play (42 ypg, 7th in PL).

Things don’t figure to get any easier for the Georgetown offense against a Colgate defense that has been extremely stingy when it comes to allowing points since some early season hiccups. The Raider rush defense (73 ypg allowed, 3rd in FCS) has been among the very best in the country all season. Colgate’s only real weakness on defense this season has stopping teams through the air. Thankfully for the Raiders, Georgetown doesn’t have a passing attack capable of exploiting it. The Hoyas best chance to put up points on offense will be short fields or a big play. They simply lack talent at the skill positions to consistently put together lengthy drives over the course of 60 minutes of play.

If Georgetown is to pull off the upset, their defense will most certainly be the main reason why it happened. The Hoya “D” (21.8 ppg allowed, 1st in PL) has been excellent all season despite being on the field for large portions of games. Their front seven should create some problems for the explosive Colgate rushing attack (202 ypg). If Georgetown is able to limit Jake Melville’s (122 carries 759 yards 7 TDs) effectiveness running the zone-read and force the senior to throw the ball 30+ times they will give themselves a fighting chance.

Georgetown has not gone winless in Patriot League play since 2009 when they went 0-11 on the season. With Georgetown’s decision to remain a need base program while the other six members in the conference are all full scholarship, things don’t figure to get much easier. The Patriot League would be stronger in many ways with an improved Georgetown program. If scholarships aren’t in the cards, and they don’t appear to be, hopefully the completion of Cooper Field comes to fruition along with other improvements within the program that keeps the Hoyas competitive within the Patriot League moving forward.

Of Note: Colgate holds a commanding 12-1 series advantage over the Hoyas. The two never met prior to Georgetown joining the Patriot League for the 2001 season. Interestingly, Colgate and Georgetown did not meet in 2001 due to a scheduling conflict with revolving around the Hoyas transition from the now defunct MAAC football conference. Georgetown’s only win in the series came in 2011 when they thumped the Raiders on their way to an 8-3.

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